Duct Tape or Building Blocks? Deciding on Point Solution vs. Patient Engagement Platform

It starts with a need – a global pandemic that forces you to start using telehealth, or high no-show rates that have you looking into text message reminders. On one hand, a point solution like CareMessage or Well Health promises best-of-breed technology for that need. On the other, a platform like Luma Health pledges to become your one-stop shop, going beyond band-aid fixes and toward proactive, coordinated patient engagement. 

How do you know what’s right for you, and how do you know what’s a platform and what isn’t? Here are some key ways to determine whether a solution is a platform – and whether you really need one.

What is a true platform?

A platform is designed to help you holistically address a broad need, such as office organization. In this case, the platform might include an email system and a note-taking system (think Microsoft Office). 

It distinguishes itself as a platform, however, because it’s more than the sum of its parts. You might find over time that email and note-taking can communicate seamlessly with one another. A staff member discovers that it’s simple to integrate them with other apps such as an office instant messenger, and you also find that you can extend the capabilities of the platform with your own customizations, such as sending emails about office happy hours to your in-house event planning system. 

These key elements – seamlessness, integration, and extensibility – allow platforms to meet a variety of needs, even those you may not have anticipated. If your accounting team and events teams use Excel, for example, they might share totals about event costs automatically between spreadsheets.

Meanwhile, the office next door, Office B, might use point solutions – or standalone products that advertise being the best at a specific function. These might include Microsoft Teams and OneNote for office communication, Apple Numbers for accounting spreadsheets, and Gmail for email. Each of these solutions might have a cool feature that makes it attractive on its own, like emojis, integration with Siri voice recognition, or a smartphone app.

However, Apple Numbers doesn’t connect to Microsoft OneNote at the office, and OneNote doesn’t connect to Gmail. Each staff member needs to log in to the systems separately and copy-paste information from one system to the other. When the office needs a new system, they need to start from scratch with a standalone product. 

Let’s dive into the three components of a platform.

1. Seamlessness

A platform is seamless because it’s created with the same language, on the same code base, to connect with the same databases, or as a cohesive whole. While new “arms” or functions of the platform are added over time, they’re designed to fit within this cohesive whole. 

Platforms are designed to work together whether you use a little or a lot, so they’re “plug and play.” You don’t need to bring in a separate team of experts, for example, to send information from Microsoft Outlook to Microsoft OneNote.

Be wary of solutions that promise a platform, but don’t use this shared language, code base, or cohesive design – often because they’ve been assembled over time through acquisitions. A collection of different point solutions that’s packaged as a platform will save you the effort of finding individual products for each of your needs, but those products likely won’t work together. 

With a lot of time and effort, you might be able to create connections between them. Ultimately, you’ll have accomplished seamlessness, but you won’t have integration or extensibility – limiting you to only the basic capabilities of each product.

2. Deep Integration

A platform might not be able to address every one of your needs, but it serves as the springboard to address those needs by integrating with other solutions. At Luma Health, for example, Slack is the platform for staff to read morning news from an email digest, start technical processes in Luma Health’s change management system, or connect to a task management system. 

This “springboard” capability builds on a platform’s single language, code base, or design. Because you can already complete most of your needs from a single system, it naturally becomes your home base. Integrating with other apps or products allows you to stay in your home base, while doing more than the platform provides on its own. 

With point solutions, like the standalone email system and note-taking system at Office B, users are already logging in to each product separately and completing a siloed set of tasks in that product. If they’d like to use a task management system, there isn’t a natural home base to integrate with. Instead, they simply add their login credentials for the task management system to their ever-growing list in a notebook or on a sticky note. 

3. Extensibility

Finally, platforms are extensible – meaning you can create on top of them to address your custom needs. For example, a savvy event manager at your organization might use your office management platform as an event planning system to track your office events and the budget associated with each. 

The building blocks available in your existing platform have enabled a new capability beyond what’s available out of the box. What’s more, the home-grown event planning system naturally fits together with the platform’s out-of-the-box functions, so it might send reminder emails to those involved in event planning or automatically update your accounting team’s spreadsheets. 

While you might not be in the market for these more advanced capabilities when first shopping for your office management platform, a platform’s extensibility allows your team to identify and solve unanticipated needs with the tools already at hand. Point solutions assume that as more needs come up, you’ll continue to buy individual products or solutions to meet them.

When do you need one for patient experience?

So, you’re sold on the benefits of an office management platform. But if you’re looking for ways to improve patient experience, a “best-of-breed” messaging product or patient app might seem like the best fit – for your budget, your outreach initiatives, or as an add-on to your existing products. How do you know if a platform is what you really need for patient experience?

You anticipate more than one need 

The most basic benefit of a platform is its ability to help you – or your staff – address more than one need from a single workspace. With a platform, they might message a patient to come inside for no-contact check-in, reschedule a patient’s appointment, or send a broadcast to everyone on tomorrow’s schedule, all from the same place. With three or more point solutions, staff could complete the same tasks. However, they’ll need to log in to more than one system, in addition to your EHR. They’ll also need to remember a series of different logins, workflows, and training across the different tools. 

What’s more, these point solutions don’t offer the extensibility of a platform. With point solutions, you’re limited to the capabilities they provide. With a platform, however, you might link remote devices like check-in kiosks to the system, integrate with your call center technology, or create a mobile app for patients. At Banner Health, for example, patient communications and the EHR patient portal will be combined into one digital front door for patients on the MyBanner app, created using Luma Health APIs.

A platform’s breadth and extensibility might still seem unnecessary if you have a single need to address immediately, such as outreach about available COVID-19 vaccination appointments.

However, healthcare changes rapidly, and within weeks your needs might have shifted from no-contact check-in, to gradually opening up vaccination appointments, to advertising surplus doses to your entire community – and beyond. A platform allows you to address each of these needs as they arrive, while continuing to gain value down the road. 

Consider Sun River Health, a federally qualified health center (FQHC) that needed to schedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments fast. While vaccine scheduling dominated their current needs, they recognized that with a point solution limited to scheduling, they’d be left searching for another solution for broadcast messaging, another for patient intake, another for patient-initiated chat, and more. Instead, they invested in a platform. 

You need a single source of truth 

You might be hesitant to commit to a platform because healthcare is so unpredictable. How can you commit to buying a collection of products for needs you don’t yet have?

A platform’s beauty is in looking forward to your future state, not giving you a pre-emptive collection of products you might need later. With functionality designed to work together, whether you use a little or a lot, you can grow in your use of a platform over time while still reaping the benefits of seamlessness, integration, and extensibility from the start. 

Consider Cook County Health, which had been using its patient engagement platform for years when they were designated a federal COVID-19 vaccine distribution site in 2021. They couldn’t have anticipated the need for COVID-19 vaccination scheduling when they went the platform route, but because they did, they had the capabilities at hand.

Within weeks, Cook County Health was using a vaccination scheduling workflow created with its existing platform, and days later, thousands of patients had scheduled vaccinations using Luma Health online scheduling workflows. The single source of truth and workflow for staff provided a springboard for Cook County Health to respond to changing needs without searching for or buying more solutions.

You want the most impact for your investment

Your decision to look for a point solution over a platform might boil down to economics – what investment makes the most sense right now, and what can wait? 

While a platform might be a bigger investment up front, many smaller health systems, clinics, and federally qualified health centers choose that investment as a smart financial move.

You likely already see the benefits of a platform when it comes to your EHR. Instead of needing separate systems for inpatient clinical documentation, outpatient visits, coding, billing, and more, you use an EHR like Epic, Cerner, or eClinicalWorks that provides these pieces as a cohesive whole. A patient experience platform naturally fits alongside the EHR platform you already use, integrating your clinical and billing information from the EHR, telehealth, and the patient’s journey and communication with you. 

Because platforms are extensible – you can do more with them than you could with a collection of point solutions – you ultimately buy fewer products and get more possibilities for innovation.  And when you link platforms like your EHR and your patient experience platform together, you get even more benefits of that extensibility. 

At Cook County Health, for example, its vaccination scheduling solution came from the natural growth of its existing Luma Health platform, not from buying a brand-new system specific to mass vaccinations. Luma Health also integrated with Cook County Health’s Cerner EHR, so Cook County Health skipped time-consuming integration work and had the clinical and scheduling information needed to create an effective vaccine workflow ready to go. 

You’re ready to address needs with an eye to the future

Ultimately, your decision to go with a platform over a point solution will depend on your organizational maturity. Consider:

Do I have the resources to plan ahead, or do I feel like I’m placing band-aids over problems as they come up?

Is my organization interested in the idea of a digital transformation?

If you feel stuck in band-aid mode, and you can’t think ahead right now, a point solution could be a temporary solution. As you grow operationally, you might gradually phase out these standalone products for something more seamless, integrated, and extensible. However, by addressing your current need with a platform, you can grow over time and always have a solution that fits, without needing to phase out your point solutions.

Both Sun River Health and Cook County Health were ready to use their existing needs as a first step in transforming their patient experience, making them the right fit for Luma Health’s platform. 

At Sun River, vaccination scheduling provides an introduction to scheduling by text message, automatic waitlist offers to patients, a single communication hub for staff to see text outreach and communicate about no-contact check-in, and more. At Cook County, these capabilities allow them to reach underserved patients near Chicago with accessible, convenient text-based outreach, creating a natural fit for the new challenge of COVID-19 vaccinations. 

If you’re ready to address your current needs as a first step in transforming your patient experience over time, as Sun River Health and Cook County Health did, you’re ready for a platform like Luma Health.

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